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Hello from down here.

lab_photos_-002.jpgI work on the “service level” of the IMA, which is really another not-so-pleasant-way of saying the basement. But this is fine with me because that’s where the majority of the IMA’s art lives (just about everything that is not currently on view is down here except the works of art on paper, which are stored on the ground level). While I wouldn’t call the service level Fort Knox, it’s the most secure level of the building (as far as I know there are no actual tanks in the security department’s arsenal). I’m an assistant conservator of objects and I work with seven other regular staff conservators, two conservation technicians, one administrative assistant, and one graduate intern from Buffalo State College. We’re divided into our areas of specialty: objects, paintings, textiles, and works of art on paper. In short, the conservation department is responsible for the physical well-being of the entire collection while it’s on view, in storage, or on loan to other museums. In addition to being care-takers of the art, we also research the collection in an effort to answer questions related to its condition, structure, technology, and authenticity. If you want more general and specific information about art conservation go here.

Though we’re constantly doing projects that are engaging and important to the museum and to the community, not much about what we do is out there on the IMA’s web site (yet!). Well that is to say except for the two projects that have excellent companion web components: Sebastiano Mainardi: The Science of Art and Bellini: Creating & Re-creating. As an objects conservator I work on a wide variety of art: from ethnographic objects, to outdoor sculpture, to contemporary and time-based media, to the Lilly House Collections (and many things in between). I work with Hélène Gillette-Woodard, who is the senior conservator of objects and also works on the same variety of objects. Here’s a couple pictures of our lab as it is today. I would prefer if you didn’t call it “cluttered,” it’s just that we often have a lot of projects going on at once.

Conservation Lab

The two small angels you see are on Hélène’s table. She’s currently researching and cleaning them.

Conservation Lab


On my work table you’ll see a variety of objects I’m either actively working on or researching. The elaborately decorated African sculpture is a Songye power figure that I recently radiographed as part of an ongoing research project (there are two smaller ones in those boxes there, and you can see two others on view in the African galleries). There’s also an Igbira head piece in one of those storage boxes, and beyond that are two, 19th century French opaline vases that will soon be on display at the Lilly House. In case you’re wondering, the blue tubes are not our tribute to Mr. Snuffleupagus , but are a type of vacuum hose that evacuates noxious chemicals that we occasionally work with while treating objects.

opaline vases

Here’s another picture of one of those opaline vases that I dissembled so that I could clean the glass vase and clean and polish the gilt coppery-alloy support structure. For this project, I documented the condition of the vases as they were before I began working. I took a number of pictures of them and then wrote a report that describes their structure and condition. In this report I then wrote a treatment proposal of how I planned to clean them and then discussed this report with the curator of that collection, Bradley Brooks. When I’m finished with the “treatment” of these objects I will write a report of how I did the work and then take more pictures of how they look after I’m done. And then they’ll be transported over to the Lilly House to be put on view in the Great Hall.

Filed under: Conservation

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